When renumbering some of the photographs in the archive of Calke Abbey (our collection D2375), I came across some intriguing early aviation images, which roused my curiosity. There are quite a few aviation-related photographs in the collection – Richard Fynderne Harpur Crewe, who took the images, was a keen amateur photographer with a clear interest in aviation, and the money and connections to travel to air shows and meet the pilots. But these particular images (D2375/J/A/2/1/27/90) stood out to me for two reasons: they showed a crashed plane, and they were captioned and dated on the back.
The caption is the same on all three photos: “G-B- July-1-11 Hamel’s wrecked Bleriot”. Even I recognised the name of Louis Blériot, the first aviator to fly across the Channel, who subsequently built aeroplanes bearing his name – but who was Hamel? What did G-B mean? And had anyone been hurt in what looked like a pretty horrific crash? A bit of research was in order.
Gustav Hamel (25 June 1889 – 23 May 1914) was a pioneer of British aviation who learned to fly at the Blériot school in France. He was involved in the development of the airfield at Hendon, later used by the Royal Air Force, and took part in races and demonstrations until he disappeared flying across the Channel on 23 May 1914.
One competition Hamel took part in was the Gordon Bennett Trophy, an annual race for nations to compete in – this explains the ‘G-B’ on the photographs. In 1911 the race was held on 1 July at the Royal Aeronautical Society’s flying field at Eastchurch; Hamel was the first competitor. He flew a Blériot XXIII monoplane, which he immediately crashed at great speed – amazingly he was unhurt!
The eventual winner was the American Charles Weymann – there’s a photograph of him flying his plane as well:
There are more photographs in this fascinating bundle, including ones of the Hendon airfield in 1911, all waiting to be discovered by an aviation enthusiast…